Chris' most popular images for sale at Shutterstock:

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Friday, July 10, 2009

Facebook and Twitter Blocked Due to Riots

After the unfortunate events that occurred recently in Xinjiang, the Chinese government has decided to block access across China to Facebook and Twitter, in addition to the already blocked blog websites, including Blogger and Wordpress.  According to "official" sources, the extremists who rioted in Xinjiang were being coordinated by messages on social networking sites, so the government's response was to block the whole country.  Not so surprising for a country that doesn't value freedom of expression, but rather inconvenient for us.

We apologize if we are unable to respond to Facebook messages or post pictures.  Hopefully the government will restore access to those sites soon.  Recently, access to Google was blocked for a few days as the government wanted to send a "message" to encourage Google to block porn sites (and who knows what else).  Fortunately access was restored quickly.

It is strange to us that as China modernizes, the crackdown on the internet seems to be getting worse.  We can only hope that those in power do have the nation's best interests in mind, though we don't always agree with their methods.  The riot in Xinjiang will only exacerbate existing ethnic tensions in a country where irrational nationalism is all too common.  Our own home countries, Canada and the US, have their own spotted history dealing with racial violence, so we can hardly stand on a moral high ground when it comes to these matters, but we send them our pryers and well wishes as they try to deal with this situation and restore peace.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Doing Some Freelancing

I (Camilla) have been trying to do some freelance writing on the web.  I've always enjoyed writing and since I have some free time these days, I thought I would try my hand at it.  I'm just trying to build up my portfolio at this point.  I have gotten paid, but not much.  Some people actually do make a living at it though, and we're hoping that will happen for me as I gain more experience.

One of my articles about the Yumberry won (to my utter astonishment) an Editor's Choice Award on!  You can read it here: 

Check out some of my other articles on the site as well.

I am still writing for, a travel site based in my native Toronto!  Lately my article about Fujianese Tea Ceremony has appeared there:

I'm excited to see where this freelance writing thing takes me!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Village Life

Chris and I spent a night last week in a Chinese village. A friend of ours goes periodically to her ancestral village to help tutor some of the kids in English and to encourage them to stay in school. This was the first time since we arrived in Xiamen that Chris and I got to go into a rural area of Fujian province. I had visited a village in Shanxi province before to help out with a school, so I had some idea of what to expect, but it was still an eye-opening experience.

Granite quarries are important in the industry here, so many of the village houses we saw were made of stone, and therefore were quite sturdily built. You could tell it was quite a prosperous village based on the quality of the houses, many of which had embellished tile roofs. The house we were staying at was quite large, with two stories, 4 small bedrooms and a central room that was open to the sky. It had electricity and running water too. Our friend told us that it was the house her grandfather had lived in, and was therefore probably close to a century old. Of course, it wasn’t like home. The beds were beautifully carved of wood, but were basically wooden benches on which a straw mat had been laid. It was pretty amazing to be staying in such a house though! Chris and I had brought air mattresses, and we managed to find a mosquito net for me, so we passed the night as comfortably as could be expected.

We spent most of our time hanging out with some of the local teenagers. When I first met them, I honestly thought they were maybe 12 or 13 years old. I was shocked to find out that they were all 16 or over (up to 18 years old)! I don’t know if it was undernourishment or other factors, but they all looked (and acted) much younger than their years. The crazy thing was that many of them, young and innocent as they were, had already been drawn into local gangs, survived drug abuse, or been approached to become prostitutes. I guess in this rural area the rule of law is little felt, and local gangs and criminals have been running the show for years. Within their own village, the kids were somewhat protected, but when they have to go to neighboring towns and villages to go to middle and high school, they are exposed to these bad influences. Many of the kids also don’t have much in the way of role models, with their parents working in far off cities, or who have mental problems, and who are generally uneducated themselves so don’t encourage their children very much in their education.

The kids were incredibly sweet though – none of this “too cool for you” attitude or pampered selfishness that many city kids have. The older kids took care of the younger kids with a parent-like affection, and many of them are running the household. It is strange – they are so child-like in some ways, and so mature in others. We tutored them for a bit in English, although none of them really seemed to see the point of staying in school, and they took us to a local temple and up the mountain to a beautiful lake where we jumped in (clothes and all) and went swimming. After their initial shyness, they became all talkative, especially after they figured out that I speak a bit of Chinese…then it was all chatter until we had to leave, at which they made me promise to come back and go swimming all day long with them. Two girls in particular really tugged at my heartstrings…one has survived an encounter with drug abuse and a stint in rehab, and her friend, her companion since they were born, has a mentally ill mother and brother, and is basically taking care of the family.

We only stayed for about 24 hours, but it was an exhausting and HOT 24 hours, and we felt like we had done enough for several days. In the midst of the playing and the learning and the surviving mosquitoes and hard beds though, were moments of real enjoyment and relaxation. The countryside is so beautiful, and the people so warm and simple. And although clearly there is a darker underbelly to rural China, the villages have their own charm that the cities cannot begin to emulate. And being in a situation where people have so many needs (they are far from destitute, yet there is still so much to be done in terms of the quality of life, and the choices and opportunities they have available to them), makes me rethink what I’m really doing with my life, and how I can best use the time I have here in China.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Ipod Touch

I finally gave in a bought an Apple product. The Ipod Touch is well worth the $220 it costs. I outlined a few of the nice things about it here

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Catching up with old friends

Recently Chris and I went back to Shanghai to catch up with old friends. Chris is on holiday during the finals period between semesters, so we had a couple weeks off. Some of our teenagers from the KG group last year were graduating, and the timing worked out perfectly for us to go to their graduation! It was so wonderful to be able to share such a momentous day with them. I was also able to spend some time with my girls' small group that I led last year, and it was great to be able to see how the girls have grown, and to be able to mutually encourage each other.

Living in Shanghai is expensive! We didn't realize how much until we went to visit! Transportation, especially, is very expensive, especially as we had to take a taxi to the subway from where we were staying in Pudong with our friends. Additionally, there is so much good shopping and there are so many good Western restaurants that we spent more than we originally intended to. Fortunately, living in Xiamen is much cheaper and we're going to be frugal for the next few weeks =). It was worth it though, for real burgers, and the dark chocolate granita at Whisk...Mmmm!

Our friend Matt, who teaches at Xiamen U with us, also joined us, so we had fun exploring Shanghai with him and for the first time went to the Shanghai Museum! You know, going to museums isn't really something you do when you live IN the city, but now that we were there as tourists, we enjoyed it! Admission was free, and they had some extensive collections of ancient coins, paintings, etc...

After we spent some time in Shanghai, we took the fast train to Hangzhou. It was Matt's first time, and the first time Chris and I experienced nice weather there =). The West Lake is just exquisite. In spite of being one of China's prime tourist attractions, it is surprisingly un-Disneyfied. The classical architecture has been well preserved, and the grounds and gardens are well-kept. They should be - the gardens in Hangzhou have been being cultivated for a thousand years! The two causeways that you can walk to cross the lake and take in the sights were built 900 to 1200 years ago, by famous poet-governers of the Tang and Song dynasties. Everything is clean, and it's refreshing to be in China and be able to walk in the shade of towering bamboo, spruce and pine trees, and enjoy the sight of lotuses swaying in the breeze. Actually the lotuses really caught my eye this time, as it is early summer and they are just starting to bloom.

We also had the opportunity to go a little off the beaten track and hike through some of the tea fields just south of the West Lake. The low rows of tea bushes combing the valleys and hillsides were some of the loveliest natural sights we have seen in China. This is where the famous West Lake Longjing Tea is produced, a light green tea that is hand-cured in large heated woks. It was so quiet in these tea fields that we couldn't hear any sounds except for the crunch of our own footsteps in the dry leaves, the crickets chirping and the sound of songbirds. It was pretty hard to believe that we were only minutes away from the popular West Lake area. The path also took us through tea villages nestled in the hills. These groups of houses, built in the traditional Hangzhou style with whitewashed walls, latticed windows and black tile roofs, were such a far cry from the modern metropolis that Chris and I have come to know as China. The owners of family-run teahouses that dotted our route continually came out to ask us in for a cup of tea. Although we politely declined this time, it would be lovely to relax by the side of the road, take in the scenery, and enjoy the harvest of the tea fields.

I'm just about finished an article on Fujianese tea ceremony, popular in Xiamen, and I'm going to write one on on the Hangzhou tea fields soon. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My article

My article has appeared on The Circumference. Check it out: Experience 'Nam at the Cu Chi Tunnels.